Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said the U.S. government remains open to arming Ukraine with fighter jets “in the right way,” keeping such a move on the table one day after the Biden administration rejected a Polish plan that would have transferred MiG-29 aircraft to the Ukrainian government via an American airbase in Germany.
“Poland’s proposal shows that there are some complexities that the issue presents when it comes to providing security assistance,” Blinken said in a news conference at the Department of State. “We have to make sure that we’re doing it in the right way.”
On Tuesday, Poland announced plans to send 28 Russian-made MiG jets to a U.S. and NATO base in Germany, aircraft that then could be transferred to Ukraine. That announcement from the Polish government followed a week of back-and-forth negotiation between Warsaw and Washington, though Tuesday’s announcement came as a surprise to U.S. officials.
But the U.S. Department of Defense opposed the transfer of Polish planes to Ukraine, a senior administration official told POLITICO, and Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby cited both logistical and military complications of such a hand-off.
In particular, Blinken expressed concern on Tuesday about the prospect of U.S. pilots departing from a NATO-controlled base in Germany into Russian-contested airspace over Ukraine. Such an arrangement might drag the U.S. and NATO into open conflict with Russia.
“It’s not simply clear to us that there’s a substantive rationale for doing it in the way that was put forward yesterday,” Blinken said. “So what we’re doing right now is continuing to consult very closely with Poland with other NATO allies on this and the logistical challenges that it presents.”
Blinken on Wednesday also dismissed calls for a NATO-enforced partial no-fly zone over Ukraine, an idea that has gained steam among foreign policy elites in the U.S. Blinken stated that such enforcement — which would include introducing American pilots into Ukrainian airspace — “would almost certainly lead to direct conflict” between U.S. forces and Russia.
“That would expand the conflict. It would prolong it. It would make it much more deadly than it already is,” Blinken said. “And that would be neither in the interest of our countries, nor in the interest of Ukraine.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed Wednesday that deliberations are ongoing between Ukrainian officials and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Gen. Mark Milley and other DoD officials. And Vice President Kamala Harris departed for a previously planned trip to Warsaw Wednesday morning, where she will meet with Polish leaders and discuss the ongoing situation in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly asked NATO member countries to implement a no-fly zone and to provide fighter jets, including in a Zoom call with U.S. lawmakers on Saturday.
“If I were in President Zelenskyy’s position, I’m sure I would be asking for everything possible, in his mind, to help the Ukrainian people,” Blinken said.